"There are only two kinds of sherry, the good and the better."
Manzanilla is not a singular wine and there are actually several different types available, including:
Manzanilla Fino: This is the most common type and the term “fino” is usually omitted.
Manzanilla Pasada: This is aged longer than usual, about seven years, and is slightly darker, saltier and less refined than the fino.
Manzanilla Amontillada: This is aged even longer, up to twelve years, and assumes some of the qualities of an amontillado.
Manzanilla Olorosa: This is aged even longer, and assumes some of the qualities of an oloroso.
Manzanilla is so important in Spain that it even has its own special glass. You might be familiar with the copita, a tulip-shaped glass which was designed for drinking sherry. But for manzanilla, there is another glass, the cana. This is a small tumbler, almost cylindrical in shape, with vertical indentations called balcones and an indent at the bottom. There is even a particular tray, the canero, which is used to hold cana. The canero has two tiers with holes in the top tier to insert and hold your glasses. Though I have seen copitas in the U.S., I have not seen any cana.
The term “cana” can also refer to the venencia, a tool used to take samples from a sherry barrel. Even with this tool, manzanilla is different. In Jerez, the venencia is often a tubular metallic cup at the end of a long flexible handle, once made of whalebone but now mainly fiberglass. But in Sanlucar, the entire venebcia is made of bamboo, including the cup, and the handle is rigid, not flexible.
Like many European wines, manzanilla is probably best when paired with food. Though some see manzanilla more as an aperitif, and many Spaniards drink it is as such, they still drink it with food, such as tapas. Yet Spaniards will also drink manzanilla with their meals, finding that it pairs well with a wide variety of foods. A classic match is with shrimp but it goes well with most seafood, including even a rich fish like tuna. It is also a very good pairing with soups, ham and charcuterie, most cheeses (unless they are too strong), pasta, and vegetables. It is even said to be an excellent pairing with asparagus, considered one of the toughest foods to pair with wine.
So why aren’t more people outside of Spain drinking manzanilla? There are probably numerous factors contributing to this situation, and changes are needed to increase consumption. First, Spanish manzanilla producers have done little to promote the product outside of their country, to highlight its important role. We are starting to see more sherry promotion in recent years, though the promotion is mainly about sherry in general, so manzanilla is only one component of that promotion.
Second, manzanilla can be a difficult taste for a person to enjoy at first, especially if they are not tasting it with food. Its bone-dry nature runs counter to the styles of many American wines. It would probably be best tasted where a whole environment could provide a context reminiscent of Spain. Maybe a seaside restaurant or a Spanish tapas place.
Most importantly, consumers need to be educated about manzanilla, and sherry in general. They need to understand it, to taste it, and learn how it fits into the realm of wine. Though wine store owners and restaurants probably need a similar education, as they are in the front line of the potential promotion of manzanilla and sherry. Local sherry distributors can lead this effort and bloggers can do their part as well. Manzanilla is often an inexpensive wine so should appeal to many people because of that reason.
Give manzanilla a try!
And if you have any thoughts or experiences of your own concerning manzanilla, please add them to the comments.